Giving Compass' Take:

• In an excerpt from The Sustainable State: The Future of Government, Economy and Society, Chandran Nair explores the challenge of balancing the immediate and long-term needs of communities. 

• How can funders support truly sustainable development? How can communities balance their short- and long-term needs?

• Learn how blended finance can help achieve sustainable development goals.

he current attempts by developing countries to improve the livelihood of their people, while successful in alleviating abject poverty, have also had huge repercussions in terms of environmental degradation and resource depletion, not to mention social costs. Cramped cities with inadequate housing are choked by smog and poor waste disposal, which create huge public health risks for residents. Ancient forests, reservoirs of biodiversity, are cut down to make room for plantations. Groundwater and waterways are contaminated by trash, industrial and agricultural chemicals, and human waste. Then add the carbon emissions that are likely to be added by the construction of new power plants, the massive growth in car ownership levels, and the expansion of agriculture (among other activities), and one can see how this quickly becomes a global issue even if impacts are most felt at the local level.

Developing countries like India are thus currently stuck in a dilemma. Do they develop using the models available to them, and risk damaging, if not destroying, their environments and impoverishing their people further? Do they lie and promise Western living standards to their people, despite the fact that this will lead to ruin? The harsh truth is that they can’t. But without an alternative understanding of prosperity and development, this admission is tantamount to dooming their people to perpetual poverty—a morally and politically difficult argument. This is a dilemma not addressed by Western experts and institutions, as it would raise some fundamental questions about the economic and political models being promoted and result in all sorts of accusations that liberals are unwilling to confront. The resource footprints of countries like China, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Brazil will— and must—increase if they are to achieve a basic standard of living for all their people. Yet the only development models available to them are unsustainable and borrowed from Western economic and political orthodoxy.

How can the developing world provide the most basic living standards for their whole population, without destroying the planet in the process? This is the real challenge of sustainable development.

Read the full article about sustainable development by Chandran Nair at Stanford Social Innovation Review.